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Chapter 4

Take the Tour

Me again. Take the tour. Today the postman delivered yet another brochure from a famous travel company offering sights, smells and tastes at the lowest price ever. This one offers a twelve day River Cruise Tour of Dutch waterways with three nights in Paris thrown in. Not a bad price when you consider the price includes air fare except in my case, Dallas is a hundred extra.

I took my first river cruise down the Rhine in 1955. I guess you might say I took the cruise up the Rhine also since we had to come back. These were day trips and included a light lunch. Spirits were extra. The local USO at Wiesbaden, Germany arranged the trips for a nominal fee - about five bucks. They were educational as well as entertaining and the crew, former U-boat sailors, were most accommodating.

Normally this brochure would have wound up in the recycling bin but it was the only piece of mail I received. TV fare was rather bland so I decided to see what they were so excited about. This brochure didn't have pictures. I prefer the ones with photos of places I have already been. The testimonials from customers makes interesting reading also.

The company claims that 79.8% of river cruise passengers rated their overall experience as "excellent." To heck with that, I want to know how the remaining 20.2% rated it. Those are the folks who will tell you how it really was. (Probably still looking for their luggage.) I like this statement. "And best of all, you'll visit cities that ocean liners can't reach and towns too far off the beaten path for most motorcoach tours." I think they are stretching it a little bit here. From my experience, excellent roads parallel the river on both sides and I ask you. What would an ocean liner be doing that far inland?

Another paragraph deals with meals. An open seating plan suggest you are free to dine with the companions of your choice. This also means you could be stuck with the dregs of the tourist world. You know the type. Have been everywhere, done everything, only took this cheap cruise while they wait for a real ocean cruise to begin. Won't let you get a word in edgewise about your own trips. And, they always have an album full of pictures - out of focus.

I would not mind cruises or tours if they were not so time oriented. You HAVE to be packed and ready for anything and if by chance you get to a place that is interesting, you don't have time to enjoy it. There is however, plenty of time to watch farmers fertilize their fields with quaint horse or tractor drawn "Honeywagons." Even this is fake as the practice of using human waste has been outlawed. Those of us who have served in Korea, Germany and Japan know the real thing when we see it.

Your room. The only difference in your room and a prison cell? The room on the boat has a sliding glass door. The size is about the same, 150 square feet or a little over 12 x 12. This well appointed room is a comfortable sitting area during the day. (This is good because the weather can be pretty nasty at times and this allows you to view the rain soaked countryside through the glass door.) Each cabin has its own bath with shower, equipped with a hair dryer. There's a color TV with CNN and in-room movies, telephone, desk, a pin coded safe and more! Now I ask you, where in the hell would you put more? The way my wife packs, we would need a separate room just for our luggage. I want to know about "more." A mirror perhaps. Maybe one of the Dutch Master's prints. The wall is the only place that I can see where you would put "more."

So far we have spent four days on the river and now it is time to board the high speed Thalys train for Paris. This thing is fast! Telephone poles look like a picket fence as they rush past your window. Provided you are seated in at least second class and have a window seat. Your half day guided tour includes a visit to Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe. After that you may want to take a stroll down the Champs Elysees and get lost on your own. Don't expect any help from Parisians without paying for it. They invented the word "gratuity."

I am lucky. I visited Japan, Europe and North Africa, all expenses paid by my employer. I may have been a little hard on the tour company. It is just that I have seen these poor ragged people stagger in to hotels late at night, exhausted and hungry to be roused at five the next morning so they can be late for something else.

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